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Day 16: Freedom from Gender-based Violence is a Human Right

Woman wearing leather jacketWe hear about it every week in the news. We have a sister, female colleague or friend who has experienced it. We hope the next generation won’t have to.

“It” is gender-based violence. On December 10, Human Rights Day, we are reminded that the right to live free of gender-based violence is a human right that is yet to be secure in any country.

Established by the United Nations in 1950, Human Rights Day is recognized by organizations and governments around the world, and it comes at the end of the 16 Days of Action Against Gender-Based Violence.

When we talk about human rights, we are referring to universal rights—including the right to life, liberty, and security—that are inherent to every person, regardless of their “nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status,” as defined by the UN Office of the High Commissioner.

While the language of international human rights law has not always included gender-based violence, GBV is considered one of the most pervasive human rights violations and a global pandemic. Rooted in discrimination and inequality, gender-based violence disproportionately affects women, girls, and people who don’t conform to gender expectations, and it occurs at alarming rates all over the world.

Yes, even in Canada, where we have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and where our new Prime Minister recently instituted gender parity in his cabinet, rates of gender-based violence are significant. In a 2012 survey by the Canadian Women’s Foundation, sixty-seven per cent of Canadians said that they know a woman who has been sexually or physically assaulted. Aboriginal women are particularly vulnerable, being three times more likely than non-Aboriginal women to be victims of violence. 

This year, Canada’s human rights record came under international scrutiny through reports by the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. A UN report card issued this summer, based on a review of Canada’s human rights record since 2006, expressed concern about the “continued high prevalence of domestic violence” and an inadequate response to “Indigenous women and girls [being] disproportionately affected by life-threatening forms of violence, homicides and disappearances.” (The new federal government has pledged to launch a national inquiry on missing and murdered Aboriginal women in summer of 2016.)

The harsh spotlight shows that human rights abuses do not only occur in ‘other’ countries. As we remember the ties that bind us—the fundamental freedoms we’re all born with—let’s also take notice of the violations that often go ignored in our own Canadian communities.

When we hear that a woman has been sexually assaulted, or has been killed by a long-time abusive partner, or has been raped on campus, the search for answers is too often myopic, as if these crimes stem from a choice of clothing or a flared temper. A heightened awareness tells us that each instance of gender-based violence is symptomatic of something bigger. 

This Human Rights Day and at the close of the 16 Days campaign, learn more about gender-based violence in Canada and join us as we work to stop the violence for good.


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